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Washington family overcomes strokes, homelessness to become first-time homeowners

Concord– Leroy and Tameko Washington were newlyweds in 2010, and then they were homeless. Now, they are homeowners.

Through circumstances far from their control, they spent a significant part of their early years of marriage living out of their cars or in motels while Leroy struggled to work due to health complications from a stroke.

It was an incredibly difficult situation to overcome and one others might not have.

On Thursday, the Washingtons were presented keys to their first home.

Leroy and Tameko were part of Habitat Cabarrus’ Homeownership Program, and after lots of hard work and several setbacks, the couple now owns a home.

“It’s a feeling I can’t even explain. But it’s amazing; it’s great,” Tameko said. “All I can say is, ‘Don’t give up. Keep the faith.’ Because God didn’t bring us this far now to leave us, so it’s amazing. It feels wonderful to be able to become a homeowner for the first time.”

“You just got to do what you gotta do,” Leroy added. “You’ve got to achieve what you’re trying to. Don’t look back, just keep looking forward, and keep doing what you’ve got to do, and good things come at the end.”

Habitat Cabarrus is a program with extremely high demand. The organization received more than 100 applicants for homes last year, with 47 of those being pre-approved. Only six are accepted each year.

The Washingtons were one of the six this year, and they took nothing for granted, spending hundreds of hours working to help build homes for others or at the Habitat Cabarrus ReStore. After all that hard work, they entered their house for the first time Thursday evening with a special presentation.

Habitat Cabarrus Board President Dave Hunkele opened the proceedings, while the Rev. Nathan King, with Trinity United Church of Christ, blessed the house and presented the Washingtons with a Bible.

Trinity members Bobby and Elsie Bonds sponsored the house build, while the Joey Logano Foundation also contributed time and funds.

The Bonds presented the keys to the Washingtons at the ceremony. Bobby and Elsie also are sponsoring another Habitat house that will soon begin construction in Concord. They said they are fortunate to be in a position to help, and they were happy to do so.

“It makes you feel good. Wonderful,” Bobby said. “We’ve given scholarships to our colleges and the seminary I went to, but now we’re able to help a family.

“It brings us a joy, happiness, a sense of satisfaction to me and my wife that we’re able to do this.”

This has been a long process for the Washingtons, who have been in the Habitat program for a few years. Their move-in plan was extended even more because of the COVID-19 pandemic that hit the state in March.

“This house and one other house were under construction (and) we closed everything March 18, so we stopped construction, we closed the ReStore, we slowed our critical repairs way down, so this house sat for a little bit,” said Amy Freeze, Habitat Cabarrus executive director. “Then when we were able to kind of start back, we still weren’t using volunteers, but we do have a very faithful crew of weekday warriors, and they come out on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so they were able to start back at the beginning of June.

“Without them and our construction team, this wouldn’t have happened. They were the ones out there making sure everything got done.”

Leroy and Tameko went through a lot before homeownership. After Leroy suffered his stroke, he was unable to work, and then they became homeless. The stress was so high, he suffered another stroke.

He was unable to participate in physical therapy due to not having a stable address, but eventually was able to relocate to Concord for a job. Unfortunately, his workplace went out of business and he was later told he was unable to work by his doctor. He attempted to receive benefits, but was denied, and he began to suffer from depression.

However, things soon turned around. He was referred to NC Works, which referred him to a rehabilitation center for health testing and, eventually, a neurologist. He and Tameko were able to rent a home, which was soon purchased by Habitat Cabarrus and rehabbed.

Soon after, they joined Habitat’s homeownership program and started on the path to becoming homeowners. And they did more work than just about anyone the program has ever had.

“We require 250 sweat-equity hours per adult. Leroy and Tameka together have 800 sweat-equity hours,” Freeze said.

That means the Washingtons spent more than 800 hours helping build houses for other members of the program over the last few years.

“It’s really their drive and persistence that are so inspiring,” Freeze said.

Tameko and Leroy could hardly contain their excitement when entering their first home Thursday.

“You can’t ask for a happier moment,” Leroy said. “It’s exciting, man. I’m a first-time homeowner, I’m a homeowner now. I’m up in age; I waited too late, but it’s never too late. They made it happen. Habitat made it happen for us.”